Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Values and Judgment: What they don't tell you

Values are a difficult topic, requiring more abstract discussion than other topics. Nonetheless, I'll try to make the ideas as clear as I can. Start with this question:

What is the best way to live your life?

If you have a thoughtful nature, you've spend time thinking about what makes for the best life, the fullest, the most meaningful life, the most enjoyable life. Different people come up with different answers and the answers change over time.

Even if you think you have the answer, how do you know for sure? You can't go to Wikipedia for this question. Religious books aren't precise in their answers or we'd have fewer denominations. You can't subject the answer to logic, because classic logic (if A, then B) is too limited and simplistic for this kind of question. When it comes down to it, there isn't a clearcut test, though philosophers and theologians have worked on answers for all of human history.

So the answer is that there will not be a definitive answer. You cannot be sure. You can arbitrarily decide that one test or another (the tenets of a particular religion, the  greatest good from John Stuart Mill, or universality of action from Kant) is the way to determine the best values, but you have to admit that there's an arbitrary choice in selecting which test to use.

When it comes to values, you will never have a guarantee that you're right. That's doesn't absolve you of making decisions, however. It just means that certainty won't be part of process. Have I proven that sufficiently? If so, welcome to my world in shades of gray. I'll remind you, though, that it hasn't prevented me from forming strong opinions. But it has guaranteed that I question everything.

What they don't tell you: 
There are no absolute answers.

Why they don't tell you:  
So you'll stay, keep listening and hoping, and maybe be convinced.
Also, they might have suppressed their doubts and bought the whole story.


Just for fun, I asked Google, "what is the best way to live your life?" Some of the answers:

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